By Mat Youkee
An attempt to influence the Ecuadorian elections with a fake video purportedly showing leftwing guerrillas endorsing one of the candidates was thwarted by a ground-dwelling bird and a keen-eared ornithologist.
In the video, shared on social media before the election’s first round on Sunday, three masked and armed men stood before the red and black flag of the ELN – Colombia’s largest remaining guerrilla force – and expressed their support for the leftist candidate Andrés Arauz.
A caption at the foot of the screen described the setting as the “Colombian jungle”, but a shrill whistle from somewhere in the shrub gave the game away.
“I recognized the whistle instantly and I knew that the video could not have been filmed in Colombia,” said Manuel Sánchez, an ornithologist and bird guide. He had identified the avian whistleblower as a pale-browed tinamous – which is not native to Colombia.
“Tinamous are quite primitive birds. They live on the forest floor and they don’t sing; they have short, inflected whistles,” said Sánchez. “It was just luck that this particular species lives in a very small and rare dry forest ecosystem in western Ecuador and north-west Peru.” Although the ELN have previously operated in northern Ecuador, there is no record of activity in the ecosystem on the southern border.
Spelling mistakes, strange accents and unlikely weaponry further undermined the authenticity of the video, which emerged after the Colombian weekly magazine Semana claimed it had uncovered documents showing ELN support for Arauz. The ELN denies the claim and disavowed the video.
In recent years, organizations such as Bellingcat have mobilized citizen journalists and volunteer experts to verify or disprove online videos. Although the Colombian military has previously used ornithologists to help locate hostages from audio recordings, this is the first time such a process has been used to clip the wings of fake guerrillas.
Sánchez hopes the attention his own tweets have brought will draw international attention to the plight of the pale-browed tinamou’s habitat. “The Tumbesian dry forest that Ecuador shares with Peru is one of the most threatened ecosystems in the Americas, due to the growth of the shrimping industry, agriculture and roads,” he said.
A spokesman for the Arauz campaign said he believed the video was the work of supporters of conservative presidential candidate Guillermo Lasso although he admitted he had no proof. Ironically, Lasso is trailing another leftist candidate in the vote count for a runoff spot against Arauz in an election to be held April 11.
Credit: The Guardian